Photo: THE FAILURES

Rated R

FEATURE FILM

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The Failures

This is just your run-of-the-mill teen rom com about death. After her mother’s suicide, Lilly (Ashley Johnson) quits the cheerleading squad, embalms the school mascot, and crashes the family car into her mom’s tombstone. So pretty much everyday teen angst. And it only gets angstier when Lilly meets William (Chad Lindberg), an alcoholic comic book geek who wants her to help him commit suicide. Um, will they or won’t they?


How many other high school romantic comedies deal with suicide? In many ways, The Failures was ahead of its time. Director Tim Hunter was no stranger to this type of subject matter, having made the classic 80’s drama The River’s Edge, which dealt with teen murder. Watching this film, you may also notice a lot of familiar faces. Yes, that is a very young Jesse Plemons.

One of the most enjoyable parts of The Failures is the abundance of great character actors throughout. Even Chad Lindberg and Ashley Johnson, the leads, are probably more well known for their supporting parts and oddball portrayals than, well, the romantic leads of feature comedies. Michael Ironside, Henry Czerny, Claudia Christian and Liane Curtis have all done excellent and largely unrecognized work in major films and TV shows for their entire careers.

The Failures was also ahead of its time in predicting the rise and influence of comic book culture. And cute dog memes. What’s amazing is that the film uses these tropes to deal with serious issues regarding mental health and suicide. 

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Go Behind the Scenes

How many other high school romantic comedies deal with suicide? In many ways, The Failures was ahead of its time. Director Tim Hunter was no stranger to this type of subject matter, having made the classic 80’s drama The River's Edge, which dealt with teen murder. For The Failures, he opts for an offbeat comedic style instead of the angsty melodrama or educational quality we might expect from a film about suicide. The Failures also incorporated the superhero comic motif well before caped crusaders and mutant avengers came to dominate popular culture. To this day, Ashley Johnson remains an underrated and underutilized actress, a former child star who quietly transformed herself into a skilled performer as an adult. Fans of genre films will also appreciate the always excellent Michael Ironside as one of the imagined comic book characters. And be on the lookout for a young Jesse Plemons in a minor role.

For the most part, death is serious business, and films tend to treat it as such. Tim Hunter's movie uses dark humor to explore the human fascination with dying and deeply flawed characters. Is comedy an effective way to explore the effects of death on our psyche? Tell us what you think!

Watching this film, you may notice a lot of familiar faces. One of the most enjoyable parts of this film is the abundance of great character actors throughout. Indeed, even Chad Lindberg and Ashley Johnson, the leads, are probably more well known for their supporting parts and oddball portrayals than, well, the romantic leads of feature comedies. Henry Czerny, Michael Ironside, Claudia Christian and Liane Curtis have all done excellent and largely unrecognized work in major films and TV shows for their entire careers. Filmmakers working on a budget can study this film for the way it deploys character actors to round out what otherwise could have been flat, wooden portrayals.

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